Tag Archives: The Art of Innovation

Our Crash Courses are the Way to Go

One of our unique services at Creative Communication Network is our ability to offer training on important topics based upon the information that we derive from books that we present at the First Friday Book Synopsis.

We call these Crash Courses, and you can look for the first offering, focusing upon Change and Innovation very soon.  Don’t miss the opportunity to register for this first course.  We will send an e-mail to you that announces the date, time, location, and method for registraiton.

In these Crash Courses, we take principles from several best-sellers on a particular topic and transform these into skill-based activities, facilitated discussions, assessments, and self-reflection.  You won’t find anything else like them anywhere.  We are putting the final touches on this first course right now.

We have  two major components in our first course on Change and Innovation, with these objectives:

Part One:            Creative Thinking

Objective 1:      Identify strategies to actively seek out and hire people with diverse backgrounds and thinking styles

Objective 2:      Explore steps to effectively manage resistance to novel or experimental proposals

Part Two:             Demonstrate how to develop processes, products, and services.

Objective 1:      Describe how to evaluate new opportunities unconstrained by existing paradigms but keeping an eye towards organizational goals

Objective 2:      Identify and describe steps to maintain the organization’s competitive edge with breakthrough solutions and disciplined risks.

In this Change and Innovation course, we draw upon principles from these books that we have presented at the First Friday Book Synopsis, and others:  

Kelley, T., Littman, J., & Peters, T.  (2001).  The art of innovation (lessons in creativity from IDEO, America’s leading design firm).  New York:  Doubleday.

Kelley, T., & Littman, J.  (2005).  The ten faces of innovation : IDEO’s strategies for defeating the devil’s advocate and driving creativity throughout your organization.   New York:  Currency/Doubleday.

Mauzy, J., & Harriman, R. A.  (2003).  Creativity Inc.: Building an inventive organization. Boston:  Harvard Business School Press.

Sutton, R. I.  (2002).  Weird ideas that work: 11-1/2 practices for promoting, managing, and sustaining innovation.  New York:  Free Press.

Tharp, T.  (2003).  The creative habit:  Learn it and use it for life.  New York:  Simon & Schuster.

Look for information about this course really soon! 

We hope you make plans to join us.

Before Creativity, Before Innovation, You Need An Idea

The first steps of a creative act are like groping in the dark:  random and chaotic, feverish and fearful, a lot of busy-ness with no apparent or definable end in sight.  There is nothing yet to research.  For me, these moments are not pretty.  I look like a desperate woman, tortured by the simple message thumping away in my head:  “You need an idea.”
You need a tangible idea to get you going.  The idea, however miniscule, is what turns the verb into a noun – paint into a painting, sculpt into sculpture, write into writing, dance into a dance.
Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit


I was just revisiting my handout from the book Where Good Ideas Come From.  Steven Johnson argues that a lot goes into the discovery of those really good ideas.  To get to “good idea, “ you have to:  go with the “flow;” you have to have, and then jettison, a bunch of bad ideas; you have to learn to rely on hunches much more than those fast/sudden/amazing eureka moments (which, really, is not the secret sauce behind most good ideas); you have to come to realize that good hunches are slow in coming – -they are “slow hunches.”

You have to build, and take advantage of, an environment that nurtures  good ideas:

This is a book about the space of innovation.  Some environments squelch new ideas; some environments seem to breed them effortlessly.

Good ideas come from many places:

Good ideas are not conjured out of thin air; they are built out of a collection of existing parts, the composition of which expands (and occasionally, contracts) over time.
A good idea is a network…  an idea is not a single thing.  It is more like a swarm.

Good ideas come from people – notice that that is “people” (plural!):

The most productive tool for generating good ideas remains a circle of humans at a table, talking shop.

And, remember, that creativity, and then innovation, are the result of good ideas.  Johnson’s decision to talk about good ideas was significant:

I have deliberately chosen the broadest possible phrasing – good ideas – to suggest the cross-disciplinary vantage point I am trying to occupy.

So…pretend that you have a group of people who have nurtured the idea generation skill that is needed.  You come together to work on generating new, good, usable ideas.

What do you do?

You have some brainstorming sessions. And then, you have the chance of sparking/catching those good ideas.  You are looking for that someone in that crowd that can help you come up with just the right next new idea:

This is not the wisdom of the crowd, but the wisdom of someone in the crowd.  It’s not that the network itself is smart; it’s that the individuals get smarter because they’re connected to the network.

So, what do you in this brainstorming session?  You brainstorm.  But, we all know, brainstorming done poorly does not work.

Here is some genuinely important “how to brainstorm well” counsel from The Art of Innovation  (Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm) by Tom Kelley.

• Seven Secrets for Better Brainstorming…

1)  Sharpen the focus.

2)    Playful Rules. (e.g. – at IDEO:     Go for quantity. Encourage wild ideas. Be visual).


1.              Number your ideas.  (it creates quantity – it makes it easier to refer to specific ideas…)
2.              Build and Jump.
3.              The Space Remembers.
4.              Stretch your mental muscles.
5.              Get physical. (including:  big blocks; competitors products; use the body itself!)

• Six ways to kill a brainstormer
The boss gets to speak first (the boss gets to speak!)
Everybody gets a turn.
Experts only please.
Do it off-site.
No silly stuff.
Write down everything.

And, like with every other skill that you develop, you’ll have to do it a bunch — practice brainstorming, that is.  Remember the tried and true adage: “perfect practice makes perfect.”

Blockbuster, R.I.P. — Lessons for us All

You know, at one time there must’ve been dozens of companies makin’ buggy whips. And I’ll bet the last company around was the one that made the best goddamn buggy whip you ever saw. Now how would you have liked to have been a stockholder in that company? You invested in a business and this business is dead. Let’s have the intelligence, let’s have the decency to sign the death certificate, collect the insurance, and invest in something with a future.
(Lawrence Garfield — “Larry the Liquidator” – played by Danny DeVito, in the movie, Other People’s Money)


Blockbuster: R.I.P.

news item:  Blockbuster finally files for Chapter 11

Born, 1985:  (The first Blockbuster store opened in Dallas, Texas on October 26, 1985 at the corner of Skillman and Northwest Highway. By the way, I used to rent videos at that specific store.  I had no idea that it was the first).
Died, September 23, 2010:  (though some smaller version might last a little longer).

The lessons are many.  Like:

#1  Customer loyalty is dead.  Really dead.
#2  Someone intends to go right past you  — you’d better beat them to the punch.
#3  If the product you are selling is no longer the product that works best, you have no future.
#4  If these three are true, then you will go under – it’s just a matter of when, not if.

These are the thoughts that I have as I reflect on Blockbuster going into bankruptcy.  Netflix, and redbox, and youtube, and iTunes, all simply passed them by.  And Blockbuster simply was not nimble enough, not quick enough, not able to react and change fast enough, and now they are on the verge of gone.

Lots of thoughts, from plenty of books, come to mind, like:

Verne Harnish, in Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, reminds us that all business starts with the functions of Making or Buying something.  So, if people no longer want to buy what you offer, you’ve got real trouble…

In Get There Early:  Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present (Using Foresight to Provoke Strategy and Innovation) by Bob Johansen (Institute for the Future), we learn about the VUCA world of (VUCA originated at the U. S. Army War College – the graduate school for Generals-to-be):

• Volatility
• Uncertainty
• Complexity
• Ambiguity

It’s the volatility that helped doom Blockbuster.

In The New Experts:  Win Today’s Newly Empowered Customers At Their Decisive Moments by Robert (Bob) Bloom, Bob basically wrote Blockbuster’s obituary.  Consider these quotes from his book:

Today’s buyers – empowered by the Internet, assured by the enormous choice in every segment of commerce, and capitalizing on the acute vulnerability of sellers struggling in this new selling climate – have taken control of the entire purchase progression.
Buyers no longer care who they buy from.
Today, buyers are in control.
This reversal of supremacy has placed every business around the globe in a perilous situation.
This confluence of technology and choice started customer loyalty down the slippery slope – ultimately, customer loyalty died.

It is a scary world out there.  Somebody is out to beat you in tomorrow’s market.

I’ll end with a well-known quote from Gary Hamel (quoted by Tom Kelley in The Art of Innovation):

To those few companies sitting on the innovation fence, business writer Gary Hamel has a dire prediction:  “Out there in some garage is an entrepreneur who’s forging a bullet with your company’s name on it.  You’ve got one option now – to shoot first.  You’ve got to out-innovate the innovators.”

“You are no longer the predator. You are the prey.”

The New Orleans Saints beat the Minnesota Vikings last night.  Their coach, Sean Payton, wanted to start this season with his team fully prepared for the challenge of defending their Super Bowl crown.  One of the steps he took was to bring in Derek Fisher to speak to his team.  Fisher is a 5 times NBA Champ (only he and Kobe Bryant have played in all five of the Lakers’ most recent championships).

Last night, Andrea Kremer reported this, and reported that Fisher said this to the Saints:

Derek Fisher

“You are no longer the predator.  You are the prey.”

It reminds me of the great business truth that I read most memorably from Gary Hamel, quoted in The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley:

To those few companies sitting on the innovation fence, business writer Gary Hamel has a dire prediction:  “Out there in some garage is an entrepreneur who’s forging a bullet with your company’s name on it.  You’ve got one option now – to shoot first.  You’ve got to out-innovate the innovators.”

Or, to put it a little more graphically, from another great athlete:

“Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”
Satchel Paige

Maybe Task One for Leaders: First You Look – Then You See

There are some really obvious truths.  I have oft quoted this:  “you are what you think about all day long.” The truth its obvious – what we fill our minds with creates who we are and what we do.

Well here is another obvious truth – what you see is determined by where you look and what you look at. And this oh so obvious truth has profound implications for leaders and what they accomplish.

The television show Undercover Boss would put CEO’s into everyday work situations in their own company.  They would go out in the field, work in the factory, alongside their own employees.  The employees would not know who they were. To a person, the bosses discovered all sorts of things about the work and about their employees that they did not know before.  Why?  They were looking in new places, thus they saw new things, and saw in new ways.

In the terrific Susan Scott book, Fierce Leadership, she calls on leaders to develop “squid eye.”

You need “squid eye” (squid hide among rocks that hide their presence) – you see many things that others cannot and do not see; you are an effective and efficient information gatherer…

For a person new to the task of finding and catching squid, this is a very difficult skill to master.  Squid hide very well, and you have to look in between the nooks and crannies to see the little tell-tale signs that squid are present.  She uses this metaphor to argue that a key task for every leader is to simply learn to look at people, processes, situations, much more carefully – look well enough to see what others miss.

In The Art of Innovation:  (Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm), Tom Kelley describes the practice of “observing” that IDEO follows on all projects for all clients.  I remember in one instance they were hired to design a new chair that would be more comfortable for women in the workplace.  Their design team members literally crawled around on the floor at the office, looking at ways women sat in chairs.  One discovery:  many women were using the yellow pages as foot rests, leading to new design challenges.

Here are some quotes from the book, giving us a little insight into this practice:

In many parts of your life, you go through steps so mechanically, so unconsciously…  When you’re off your own beaten path, however, you are more open to discovery:  when you travel, especially overseas; when you rent an unfamiliar car; when you try a new sport or experience a new activity.  At those times, you are more open to ask childlike “Why?” and “Why not?” questions that lead to innovation.

By studying people of all ages, shapes, cultures, and sizes we’ve learned that the best products embrace people’s differences.

You don’t just send your researchers out to do research and your designers to do design.  You send your designers with researchers to do design and vice versa.

Finding the right people (to observe) helps.

Observe real people in real life situations to find out what makes them tick…
Visualize new to the world concepts and the customers who will use them.
Innovation begins with an eye: Inspiration by observation…
Make small observations, which lead to small improvements — keep that process up continuously, and you will find yourself at the head of the pack…

And though where you look “from” matters, just actually, simply looking really matters.  In the Vaclev Havel speech I quoted on this site yesterday, delivered as he assumed the presidency of his country, he stated:

Allow me a small personal observation. When I flew recently to Bratislava, I found some time during discussions to look out of the plane window. I saw the industrial complex of Slovnaft chemical factory and the giant Petr’alka housing estate right behind it. The view was enough for me to understand that for decades our statesmen and political leaders did not look or did not want to look out of the windows of their planes. No study of statistics available to me would enable me to understand faster and better the situation in which we find ourselves.

And then he describes what he intends for his presidency:

To be a president who will not only look out of the windows of his airplane but who, first and foremost, will always be present among his fellow citizens and listen to them well.

Here are some lessons/reminders for leaders:

1.  Actually look – at people, at processes, at products.  (Think design, and the brilliance of Steve Jobs and Apple).

2.  Look at people and products where they are actually used.  Look when people don’t know you are looking.  Simply observe.

Most of all, remember this:  First You Look – Then You See.